Massachusetts to Begin Reopening Business

It’s been about two months since Governor Charlie Baker issued his shut-down order to most Massachusetts businesses. Now, the Governor says, it’s time to start the reopening process. It won’t be quick, nor will it be easy, and small business in the Commonwealth won’t look the same as it did before the coronavirus pandemic began.

Earlier this week, Governor Baker announced his plan to reopen the Massachusetts economy in four phases. Who can open when and under what conditions won’t be announced until next week, but it’s a safe bet that companies that work face-to-face with customers will be among the last and most comprehensively regulated. In the meantime, small companies are urged to prepare to reopen. The Commonwealth has created a list of rules that must  generally be followed by all, including the following:

  1. Social Distancing – all business will be required to build this into their operations. Signs, protocols to maintain safe distances, and face masks will all be a part of this process.
  2. Hygiene – employees will be required to regularly wash hands, and businesses will be required ensure they do so. They’ll need to provide the supplies for this and ensure that high-touch areas are frequently washed.
  3. Employees – training for the new business rules will be required, as will a plan to ensure workers who have COVID-19 or are exposed to it are removed from work. A protocol for their return to duty will also be mandatory.
  4. Cleaning – a regular cleaning and disinfecting plan for company premises will need to be implemented. Special procedures will apply when employees or others with COVID-19 are discovered.

In addition to these challenges, newly reopened business are likely to discover, as ones that never closed already have, that getting workers to jobsites is more difficult than it once was. Many will be reluctant to return or to remain at work due to health concerns. As a general rule, companies that provide safe work environments can require their employees to work or face termination and a loss of unemployment benefits. That rule, of course, has its limits. Some workers who refuse to return will likely be shielded by disability discrimination/reasonable accommodation rules or the new federal paid leave statute, which provides up to 12 weeks of largely paid leave to qualifying workers. Others must report to work or sacrifice unemployment checks unless they or members of their immediate families are subjects of COVID-19 quarantine requirements.